Manchester United might need Harry Maguire to do them a favour in transfer saga
If Jose Mourinho was still the Manchester United manager the chances are they would have signed a centre-back by now.
United were in the process of distancing themselves from what they described as the ‘short-termism’ of Mourinho’s signing strategy while he was still in charge, yet Ed Woodward might have accepted £25million for Toby Alderweireld represented financial and football sense.
Instead, United are persisting with Harry Maguire as they approach the final week of the Premier League transfer window. Maguire, considered by United last year, is more aligned with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s long-term transfer criteria; he is 26, British and worked under the United assistant manager Mike Phelan at Hull.
Alderweireld would have been a direct contradiction of the strategy change; he is 30 and symbolises short-termism. United are also intent on playing out from the back and, though Alderweireld was schooled at Ajax and has played at right-back, he is not as synonymous with roaming as Maguire is.
Tottenham were never going to admit it but agency figures who dealt with them said they were ‘gutted’ nobody had triggered Alderweireld’s release clause. Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen are out of contract in under a year’s time and Spurs chairman Daniel Levy is desperate his negotiating name is not undermined by the loss of two first-teamers on free transfers.
Alderweireld, one of the best Premier League centre halves of the last five years, might not have relished Europa League football, or joining a team in flux as United are. Or working with a manager less eminent than Mourinho.
Still, Leicester are demanding in excess of £90m for Maguire, valued at a minimum £65m more than Alderweireld while the Belgian’s release clause was active. United hope their negotiators can come to a resolution with Leicester similar to the one with Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who cost an up-front fee of £45m, significantly less than what Palace were holding out for.
If United sweat it out with Leicester the Foxes could belatedly realise keeping Maguire is more hassle than it is worth. The England international wants to join United and other clubs who opted for braggart brinkmanship in recent years whenever United came calling have become desperate.
Lazio, for example, outpriced clubs for Sergej Milinkovic-Savic last year and now, with his value dwindling, are plucking lines out of thin air to suggest there is as much interest in him. They encountered similar issues with Felipe Anderson, considered by United in 2015 before he ended up at West Ham in 2018.
Brighton’s Lewis Dunk has already been mooted as a replacement for Maguire and the Leicester owner Aiyawatt ‘Top’ Srivaddhanaprabha may belatedly accept retaining Maguire is inessential when Leicester already stand to obtain a world record fee for a defender.
Their coach Brendan Rodgers might have different aspirations. Scan through Leicester’s strongest XI and at least five players would improve the strongest United side. Leicester, Wolves and Everton should be snapping at United’s heels to disturb the top six and Rodgers would be forgiven for squeezing one more year out of Maguire.
Only come next year – if Maguire is still at Leicester and still with three years on his deal – he could be devoid of any desirable suitors. Pep Guardiola might have walked into the Manchester sunset and United could have failed to secure Champions League qualification again. Maguire turns 27 in March and it is maybe now or never.
Maguire has supposedly joked with friends he needs to agitate as aggressively as Laurent Koscielny has at Arsenal. Maguire, though, appreciates the prominence he has received since signing for Leicester two years ago and how his status there has fuelled his popularity among the England following.
United claimed last year they were prepared to invest £100m for the preferred profile of centre-back and cited Raphael Varane as the shining example. Varane is actually younger than Maguire.
Mourinho wanted him, too.
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